Japanese Business Negotiations

Last Updated: 14 May 2021
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The increasing globalization and shrinking world of today require people with diverse cultures to work together for common goals. There is an increased need to discuss or negotiate deals across cultures today, than ever before. With cultures reflecting their priorities and their action plans, the culture of the negotiating party require to be understood, so as to ensure a hassle free negotiation and successful conclusion. The expectations from a negotiation, the way they go about negotiating, what they are willing to compromise or give up are all reflective of their respective culture.

Cross cultural negotiations while being crucial and holding huge stakes, can be successful only when approached with an understanding of the role of culture in negotiations. Introduction The life and society of today demands several skills to get the better in all our dealings. Negotiation is one such skill, which has considerable bearing on the outcome of all our dealings with the society we interact. Negotiation is evident in almost every aspect of our life and across all age groups, though the reasons and things we negotiate may vary.

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A purchaser would negotiate the terms of purchase, while an employee would require negotiating a pay hike, while an injured party would negotiate a relief. We negotiate on several issues and at various occasions not realizing that it was actually a negotiation. The need to negotiate is reflected in almost every profession. The ability to negotiate successfully and walk out with favorable outcomes puts an individual at an advantageous position. Our society and culture influences the way we think and talk about everything. Our negotiations are thus influenced by our culture and values.

The concept of culture is broad and too complex. It includes everything learned and valued from one’s interaction with his or her society. Culture encompasses every aspect of a person’s life, virtually every human need, either as an individual or within a group. An important aspect of culture is that it continuous to evolve with time in response to the environment and external influence. The culture of an individual has a significant bearing on his or her interactions, including negotiations. Cross cultural negotiation is an important aspect of cross cultural communications.

In the rapid globalization of today, cross cultural communication has become very relevant, and thereby cross cultural negotiation has an immense bearing. When business dealings are concluded across cultural borders, it becomes important for the offering or proposing parties to understand and respect the cultural aspects of their clients to ensure positive outcomes. Cross cultural negotiations can be understood by looking at the factors that can influence the outcome of such negotiations. However these can only be generalizations and individuals within a culture can vary too, depending on individual education and experiences.

Awareness of factors that influence cross cultural negotiations can help one to immensely succeed in such negotiations, by avoiding actions that might be considered offending and doing things that are only seen positive. Such cross cultural negotiations are not just restricted to closing deals with people beyond the borders, but also working on factors that influence the outcome of the negotiations. Some notable factors involved in cross cultural negotiations are: Eye contact Eye contact or the lack of it has its own implication in cross cultural negotiations.

A strong and direct eye contact is a sign of confidence and also reflects sincerity and seen predominantly as a sign of trustworthiness in the United States and Arab Cultures. But in certain cultures like the Japanese, prolonged eye contact is normally avoided as it signals rudeness. Looking down is generally considered as disrespect in Asian settings. With regard to eye contact, things beyond a point tend to get too complicated, for instance, the movement of the eyes which may signal disagreement or embarrassment in Central America. Space orientation and touch

Space orientation vary with cultures and is also sometimes associated with the territory, private or public, physical touch and gender. It is common for business people in Europe and America to observe a certain distance between them while interacting. Here touching is involved only among friends. An uncomfortable closeness would be very annoying to the other person, and so a minimum distance of about two feet from the other person would be required. But cultures like that of the Arabs, Mediterranean, are more tolerable to closeness and allow touching.

Certain cultures like that of the United States, permit cross-gender touching, while same gender touching is generally avoided. But in Japan women generally hold hands while the men do not. Spatial preferences are reflected in the seating arrangements for negotiations. The American like to talk with people seated opposite to them or at an angle from them. However these may be alienating and uncomfortable for the Chinese who prefer to side by side while talking. The spatial preferences in cross culture vary with age, gender, generation and social class. Relevance of time in negotiations

The understanding and response to time is reflected by cultures in two notable ways, namely the monochromic approach and the polychromic approach (LeBaron, 2003). The monochromic approach involves a linear and a sequential approach to time, doing only one thing at a given time. Such approaches are more prominent in European type cultures like Germany, Switzerland or even the United States with the Japanese also tending towards this. The polychromic approach on the other hand involves carrying out several things simultaneously. This approach is more common in the cultures of the Mediterranean and Latin like France, Italy, Greece and Africa.

While negotiating, people from monochromic cultures tend to observe a marked and prompt beginning and an end, with scheduled breaks. They would prefer to talk in sequence while dealing with a single agenda at a time. Here the communication is specific, explicit and sometimes detailed and late coming is seen as a sign of disrespect. On the other hand polychromic culture based negotiators observe flexible timings for meeting start and end. They take breaks whenever it looks suitable and overlap their talks. They also do not view late coming as being personal and are acceptable with the high levels of information. Meeting and greeting:

Generally in international businesses, people mostly meet with a handshake. However in some countries this may not be appropriate among different genders. Also the way people address the other or would expect the other to address them like using first name, surname or title, have a bearing on the negotiations. Also while some might see a weak handshake as a sign of weakness, some others perceive a firm handshake as being aggressive. The greetings are majorly informal with a smile and a brief handshake and with a ‘hello’. Traditionally the Japanese were not used to shaking hands, but today it has become a common practice with them too.

Handshake is more common in Europe than in America. European men pertaining to older generations, shake hands while meeting other men while kiss a woman’s hand. Gift Giving: Gift giving is an integral part of the business protocol in cultures of Japan and China. It is however viewed negatively in the US or the UK. Although in Japan, the gifts need not be lavish, expensive gifts are not seen as a bribe or as being offered with an intention. The gifts are to be wrapped and that too by avoiding bright and white colors. When meeting a team, it is appropriate to either present a group gift or an individual gift to all team members.

When a group gift is to be presented it is necessary to ensure the entire team is present before making the presentation. In China too, the gifts are not to be packed in white, blue or black colors as these symbolize funerals. Also writing in red ink too should be avoided as red indicates relationship severance in Chinese culture. Cross cultural negotiation strategy As cultures are in a constant state of transformation and homogenization, it is difficult to clearly distinguish negotiation aspects among the various cultural settings.

Thus tracking the starting point of negotiations in different cultural or national settings is complicated. Another restriction of literature associated with cross-cultural negotiation is that it is mostly relevant to the organizational domain. Also the negotiators differ in their persuasion styles, and the way they cope with emotionally. It should be noted here that the generalizations are however subject to the sectors relevant and the context associated with the negotiations. Family matters and commercial matters may have differing strategies and approach.

Similarly negotiation strategies might change for national policies or community issues. The Americans for instance while relying on facts, tend to be logical and with less regard to emotional sensitivity. Being straight forward, their dealings are impersonal with nothing directed or presumed to be personal. However the Japanese negotiators attach a high value to emotional sensitivity, and hide emotions. The cross cultural negotiating attitude as relevant to the various societies may be briefly said as follows: The French expect others to act the way like they do, in the conduct of business, including speaking in French.

The English negotiators are formal and are very concerned with proper etiquette. Emphasizing on protocols, they are generally polite. Germans see protocols and formalities as being important. Dress code, right postures and appropriate manners are expected. They see the seriousness of the purpose as being reflected from the dressing. The Italians though very hospitable, their temperament is very volatile. When making an important point, they may resort to gesticulation or express it emotionally. The Chinese don’t like touching and would like to restrict their introductions to short bows and brief handshakes.

Also as said gift giving may be observed as a protocol during negotiations. In India, the negotiations are held in a formal yet relaxed atmosphere. One should request permission while entering or smoking. The negotiation strategy may be described as an action plan incorporating appropriate behaviors, considered the best way of achieving the goals in a negotiation. Negotiators have their own priorities and interests that are influenced by their culture. The interests and priorities of a negotiator and their response to these in the course of their negotiations are directed by their culture.

It is very common for negotiators of one culture to expect compatibility in preferences when negotiating with people of another culture. When they see a difference in priority with their negotiators, they describe the situation as irrational. Thus cultural differences, when setting up priorities, contribute to cultural blinders. However it should be understood that when people negotiate, the strategies they adopt are culture based and these are different among the cultures. These strategies may also be different within cultures with an overlap evident between cultures.

Thus we do have people who negotiate more like people of a different culture than their own. The influence of culture on negotiation strategies, resulting on what they bring to the negotiating table is evident from their motivation, confrontation, information and influence on them.

  • Confrontation: Confrontation is observed among negotiators either directly or indirectly. The direct forms include face to face or electronically while the indirect way is through a non-verbal behavior or via a third party. Western cultures indulge in direct confrontation while the Asian cultures take to indirect confrontation.
  • Motivation: Motivation is the urge or the drive in a person to act on their respective interests. Negotiators may consider their self-interests, the interests of the opposite party at the table, or the common interests. The importance emphasized to the different interests varies with culture. While the Asian cultures concentrate on collective and common interests, Western cultures concentrate on self interests.
  • Influence: Influence is the ability to bring desired situations like concessions from the other party. Power is vital to influencing the other party. The influence may again be direct like arguments, reasoning and threats or indirect like appeals for sympathetic consideration or referring to personal stake in the negotiation.
  • Information: Gaining information and hiding information is crucial to negotiation. Negotiators stand to gain from accessing other party’s interests and objectives. Therefore sharing information can make one very vulnerable, as the other party comes to know what they would be willing to give and what they would insist. The US approach The US approach to negotiations is generally perceived for a reference and comparison when studying the approach of other cultures.

It may be generalized as relying on individual values, seeing themselves and others as independent and self-reliant. Although they consult whenever and with whomever necessary, they see themselves as a separate entity within a network or a group providing individual initiatives and inputs. While being competitive in their approach, they begin negotiations with a very unrealistic offer, though being prepared for a fall back option. The Americans are more persistent in their position and focus more on areas of disagreement rather than on accord.

American negotiators are confident about their position and tend to get things towards certainty, rather than having it open ended or uncertain. John Mc. Donald, a senior American diplomat and an international negotiator describes the important traits of Americans that contribute to the American negotiating strategy, as evident in international and intergovernmental negotiations. These according to him contribute both positively and negatively when consolidated. These include:

  • Impatient: The impatience character of the Americans is reflected in the way the Americans negotiate. Impatience is inherent among the American negotiators reflecting their perception of time, which mostly cause misunderstanding.
  • Arrogance: America being a superpower and Americans reflecting this in their attitude, only tend, in them being perceived as arrogant. This position-based arrogance is brought into the negotiation table by the Americans, at international meetings. When such characteristics are pointed out by the non-Americans, many Americans are surprised and take exception to such observations, contributing to friction.
  • Listening: With impatience and arrogance, it is only obvious that Americans are not good listeners. Listening skills require patience, and the Americans tend to be perceived as being superficial and unconcerned of the other’s points of view.
  • Insular: Americans have less exposure to other cultures and this aspect can contribute to the misunderstandings and embarrassment to the Americans. This limited experience provides a feeling of insecurity for the Americans, resulting in limited outreach for the Americans towards the negotiating party. Very rarely is this seen as shyness and generally more as a lack of interest.
  • Friendly: Americans are seen as friendly with a sense of humor and out going. This helps in building a sense of trust. Also humor when used at the right time can break tensions and helps move further in difficult situations to reach a solution.
  • Risk taking: The American negotiators are generally perceived as risk takers and are often willing to try new ideas or ways to compromise. The negotiators even adopt specific terminologies to move the dialog process towards an agreement, even without approval from headquarters, reflecting the risk they are willing to take to achieve consensus.

The Japanese approach The implications of non-verbal communication are strongly reflected in Japanese culture. Facial expressions, voice tone and posture sometimes have more relevance than the spoken word. Frowning is a sign of disagreement and most Japanese adopt an impassive expression while speaking. Being conscious of age and status, hierarchy is very important in every aspect of life including business. Among the core cultural concepts of the Japanese society that have a bearing on the way they negotiate are (Beer, 2003):

Establishing Long term relationships: Rather than being self centered, the relationship is more directed at work centered or others centered. The relationships are more based on ethics instead of set principles. The relationships might accommodate social constraints and tedious obligations but none the less it ensures loyalty and security. Being conscious of their role and place: Every person is ranked to other, both as a senior or a junior, based on which language and interaction is based. The philosophy of pushing oneself to obscurity even while elevating the other is in contrast to Western philosophy of being equal in every way.

The relevance of face: One’s reputation is also relevant for one’s family and social circle. There is a fear of being isolated or being laughed at. Lifelong relationships are handled carefully to ensure it is properly held. Sequence: The Japanese believe there is a perfect way to do almost everything, and also a perfect phrase appropriate for all situations. The emphasis here is more on how it is done rather than what is accomplished. Diligence and details: Steady work is what maters than the parameters of the work done.

Patient preparation is more vital to creativity or speed. An appropriate facial expression with an alert posture is needed without evidence of self needs or reactions. The American culture is in contrast to that of the Japanese. The American culture is more individualistic with short term focus and interpersonal relationships marked by clear boundaries. The Japanese work within the sphere of unstated expectations avoiding open conflict. Although the American and the Japanese strive to accomplish a mutually accepted agreement, their approach towards the sub-goals is different.

The Japanese consider developing a social relationship as a sub-goal, while the American views sub-goals only to be task-associated problem removal. However both consider the sub-goal as an important primary step towards the ultimate goal (Kumar, 1999). Thus there are plenty of opportunities for clashes when the two set about to achieve their sub-goals. During interactions between the Japanese and the Americans, each one would attempt to interrupt the other’s goal directed behavior, which then result in generation of negative emotions.

The Japanese culture may be described as a relationship oriented one and the Japanese tend to avoid negative emotions as compared to the Westerners, while emotions are openly expressed in the American culture. The concept of ‘saving face’ is important to the Japanese society, where turning down a request of a person is seen as causing an embarrassment or a loss of face. Thus when a request is unacceptable, the Japanese would only say ‘it’s not convenient’ or under consideration’. Thus the Japanese try and avoid criticism and insult so as to avoid causing the loss of face.

In Western cultures, unjustified frustration produces anger which then develops to a desire for retaliation. But in the Japanese culture, even if there is anger, it doesn’t develop into aggression. While the anger doesn’t lead to aggression, the unexpressed anger leads to resentment. The Japanese would try to flee the situation by responding ambiguously, delaying or even being silent. The escape reaction too is not overtly expressed. The Chinese approach With regard to the Chinese culture, with over a 5000-year history, it reflects holistic thinking, morality and skepticism towards foreigners.

Asian cultures particularly the Chinese are more attached to the aspect of collective behavior. The Chinese negotiators depend on group consensus and cooperation which reflect their sense of community. Decisions are taken by consensus in their direct meetings. They value time required in developing and strengthening relationships. The strong morality as reflected in the Chinese culture emphasizes status and respect. At negotiations, all levels of employees are generally accommodated. ‘Saving face’ is important and requires everyone to refrain from being offensive to others.

Negotiations are finalized after considerable time, moving back and forth on issues. The need and process to reach a consensus is more important than the goal itself and it is also important for both sides to perceive that they have got equal and similar gains, even when the negotiations are over. Patience plays a vital role as negotiations tend to get longer and confusing (Hudson, 2005). The Chinese take time to study the various options before acting on it. The Americans see the Chinese as being dishonest, indirect and inefficient while the Chinese see Americans as being excitable and aggressive.

Personal relationships are more valued than money in the Chinese culture, compared to the Americans. Offering of gifts are a good way to establish a friendship with Chinese. The Chinese care for their face and relationship is a prerequisite for the finalization of business. In China, the relationships are based on mutual trust, and other values like compromise, commitment, identical goals and equality (Wan and Rodriguez, 2007). The process of continuous communication is crucial in building relationships, despite the flow of information.

The process of negotiations is slow with the Chinese who emphasize on details and re-negotiate to improve their position. The relationship oriented Chinese strategy is in contrast to the result oriented Western negotiating style. While the Westerners focus on the tasks, terms and conditions involved and are time conscious, the Chinese are flexible and focused on harmony while being patient. The Chinese are tough negotiators wanting to negotiate everything including the differences. Some notable aspects of the Chinese negotiating strategies are:

Trust: The Chinese emphasize on proper introduction before taking to business discussions. They do not like being rushed into business discussions. A comfort level with the other party is required to be established before commencement of negotiations. The trust here is built based on harmony, mutual respect and equality. Rationale: Chinese try to decipher the reason and logic in a holistic manner. They use this to ensure a win-win situation in the long run, although a bottom line approach may be considered for a short term solution. Style: The Chinese love to listen more than they talk.

At times they may appear to be delaying, but in fact they may only be gathering details. Their unemotional style, indirect and vague attitude provides room for maneuverability. They consider interruption as being rude. Compromise: The need to ‘give and take’ is well emphasized in Chinese culture as a way to achieve harmony. The Chinese are well aware of what they want and how far they are willing to compromise. They don’t consider a compromise as being weak or a sign of giving in. Renegotiating: It is common for the Chinese to renegotiate on issues dealt and agreed upon already.

The agrarian values are mostly held by the Chinese while the American values are largely urban. The Chinese populations have a huge regard to authority which is reflected even in the negotiating table. Similarly they are also immensely concerned in finding ‘the way’ or the middle ground. The Chinese philosophy requires one to always seek a middle ground, which is appropriately reflected in negotiations too. The Americans on the other hand would like to stick to the truth. The Americans become angry during negotiations, when there is a drift from the truth.

The Americans normally come to the negotiating table with preset notions, based on their assumptions of truth. While the Chinese are quite suspicious of foreigners, they place immense emphasis on personal connections. Their decisions too would be based on their social relationships. On the other hand, the Americans disregard personal connections during negotiations, relying only on information, institutions and networking while emphasizing on fair game and honesty. The Chinese negotiators tend to deal with all the issues simultaneously, looking at things in a holistic manner.

The American negotiators on the other hand tend to break complex issues into simpler segments and deal with them individually. Given their respect for social status and authority, they tend to behave in a formal manner. They would for instance like to know the senior members at the negotiating table and would exhibit due relevance to their authority. The Americans on the other hand are very casual in their arrangements focusing on the objectives of the negotiation rather than their hierarchy. Conclusion Understanding and respecting of cultures has become an integral aspect of successful negotiations.

While the American see negotiations as a mechanical exercise to reach an agreement, the Japanese view it as an opportunity to share information and establish a relationship, that could lead to a deal. Selecting their negotiators and the protocol observed at the negotiating table are again influenced by cultures. The nonverbal aspects of communication serve as the main channels for sending a meaning. Although non verbal communications like gestures, expressions and other body movements could send universal signals, certain actions are highly culture specific, which require understanding and respecting by the other party.

For example while dealing with the Arabs, never expose the shoe sole, as it represents the bottommost of the body and is considered dirty. Similarly the use of left hand should be avoided as it is represented for physical hygiene. Touching the side of the nose is a sign of no trust in Italy. Sucking air through the teeth in Japanese is a sign of anger and frustration. While laughter could represent humor in the Western culture, it could cause embarrassment for the Asians. In the rapid globalization and shrinking world of today, cross cultural negotiations are becoming more relevant.

People across cultures have more need to negotiate today, with an increased stake at hand than ever before. Although they may be able to break the language borders, they see the world differently, based on which they set their business goals and express their feelings. The shrinking world also affects the cultural values of the people which are again reflected on all their activities including negotiations. Culture remains nonnegotiable, with people unwilling to change it for the sake of business. The way people see negotiations is itself influenced by their cultures.

Understanding of foreign culture and developing a tolerance for cultural diversity is essential in succeeding in today’s multi cultural world. It is important for negotiators to determine the background of the negotiating party so as to avoid causing inconvenience. The understanding of culture is very important in all cross cultural transactions, particularly in negotiations.


  1. Kumar R. (1999) Communicative Conflict in Intercultural Negotiations: The Case of American and Japanese Business Negotiations.
  2. Kluwer Law International 63-78 Beer J. E (2003) Core Cultural concepts. Retrieved on 6th August 2010 from http://www. culture-at-work. com/japancore5. html
  3. LeBaron M (2003) Culture based negotiation styles. Retrieved on 7th August 2010 from http://www. beyondintractability. org/essay/culture_negotiation/
  4. Hudson S (2005) Negotiations, Contracts and the Chinese Culture. Retrieved on 4th August 2010 from http://scm. ncsu. edu/public/lessons/less050615. html
  5. Wan A. D and Rodriguez (2007) Building rapport and negotiations with Chinese, or “No Relationship…No Business! ” Retrieved on 5th August 2010 from http://www. chinasuccessstories. com/2007/09/03/building-rapport-and-negotiations-with-chinese/

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Japanese Business Negotiations. (2018, May 24). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/japanese-business-negotiations/

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